Last week, I spoke to a newly sanctioned LGBTQ Ally club called “Pride NOT Prejudice” in the same classroom where I once took “Personal Morality” class. The group included current students at my alma mater—an all-girls Catholic school in the Deep South. Let’s just say, I never could have imagined this conversation 15 years ago for so many reasons!
Though I am Queer – in both my sexuality and gender identity – this recent session with Queer high schoolers and their allies reminded me that I’m still learning what it means to be an ally, too. Of course, I support equal civil rights, gender equality, and challenging homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, which is all at the core of what it means to be an LGBTQ ally, but even still, my identities do not cover the entire range of the LGBTQ spectrum, and a new generation continues to push the boundaries of what it means to be Queer in all the ways.
As I consider this, I can’t help but hear a reworked version of the classic Spice Girls song in my head (and frankly, is there anything more wonderfully Queer?): “If you wanna be my ally, you have got to give—Taking is too easy, but that’s the way it is!”
Here are three key ideas to keep in mind when working toward being the best possible ally, whether you identify as LGBTQ or not.
Give Your Attention and Listen
According to the ever-reliable Merriam Webster, the verb “ally” breaks down to connection as means of support. What have I wanted and needed more than anything during all my years coming into my sexuality and gender identity? Someone who listens. Someone who asks respectful questions. Someone who isn’t afraid to acknowledge that they are learning, too, and doing their best to be supportive and understanding. It seems like the simplest directive in the world, but as a true talker, I myself recognize that it can take real, continued effort to be a great listener.
Give Up the Assumption that One Queer Person is the Expert on ALL things LGBTQ
As a Cuban American who grew up in New Orleans, my experience — of course — differs from that of other Cuban American Millennials who might have grown up in Miami or anywhere else, for that matter. In the same way, I am not bisexual, a gay man, nor intersex, so I cannot speak to those lived experiences even if people with these identities may also identify as Queer. I can only be an expert in my own experiences with any identity. This is not to mention that intersectionality is real, and all the nuance of our varied experiences is what makes us individual. To be Queer can mean a thousand things and a thousand different things from person to person.
While chances are, the Queer folks in your life may have much more knowledge on the subject than the average cishet (cisgender heterosexual) out there, don’t assume that your Queer buddy has all the answers on every topic across the spectrum of LGBTQ identities. Plus, it’s not their responsibility to educate you – even if they want to! Let a conversation be a conversation, not a lesson.
Give In to Educating Yourself (and Keep Educating Yourself)
Years ago, I attended a support group for asexual (ace) people and allies. I knew so little about the community beyond some minor reading, the documentary Asexual, and a brief romance with a graysexual woman. That night, I felt my world open up to an entire group of people I’d never heard about – especially from such an intimate perspective.
The experience taught me that the work is ongoing – for all of us, no matter our gender or sexuality. We as human beings are constantly evolving – terms change, pronouns are not necessarily static, and our conversations must be continuous.
Thankfully, the Queer literary and media universe is expanding! Search for books that center Queer characters of all stripes, watch documentaries about the LGBTQ community, get involved with great Queer organizations like the Okra Project, Brave Space Alliance, Lambda Literary Foundation, and beyond! If you wanna be my ally, you have got to give – and keep giving.